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Redefining a radio station
Radio One in Dallas recently built a new facility to consolidate its two stations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. A local shopping mall was selected to house the stations. The general manager, George Laughlin, determined that the visitors to the Valley View Mall in North Dallas are a direct reflection of the target demo for the Radio One stations, which made moving to the mall a natural fit. The goal for the studio facility was to create a presence in the mall that would allow the listeners to interact with their favorite radio stations and allow us to promote our stations at the same time.
No easy task
There were several problems to overcome in building a radio station in a mall. The location that we selected had been a two-screen movie theater many years before. It had been vacant for more than 20 years. The mall had tried to lease that space many times, but the construction costs kept them from ever getting it leased. The biggest problem with the space was that the floor had a six-foot slope from front to back for each theater. The cost to level the floor kept the average mall tenant from being interested in the space.
The theater actually had more space than we needed to complete the build. Because the space was not dividable and had not been rented in years, the mall management was motivated to give us a rate on the space that would close the deal. The general manager decided that the extra space should be made into a half-court basketball gymnasium. While this sounds like a strange thing to put into a radio station, it has been great. We have used the gym for several mini concerts, and many various promotions. Some of the promotions have been Super Bowl watching parties, client events and one event had a local company that operates haunted houses actually build a haunted house inside the gym. We have had Steve Harvey broadcast his morning show live from the gym with 200 listeners and a catered breakfast buffet. It has been great to have a multipurpose area attached to the station.
The wiring trough serves a functional and decorative purpose in the facility design.
Each studio has a conventional layout, but the integration of routing and control adds to the flexibility.
Because the cable is visible, extra attention was made to ensure that it looked good.
Despite the luxury of the generous space, we still had other problems that needed to be addressed. This mall is a relatively short building with tall office buildings on all sides of it. Those buildings created a wall preventing us from making an STL microwave shot to either transmitter site. We initially tried to negotiate with the mall to allow us to put a small tower on the roof of the mall. When we actually conducted the path studies we discovered that the required elevation was not possible at this location. We decided to install T1 circuits to each transmitter site to be used as the main STL circuit. The microwave STL system had to use a repeater before arriving at the transmitter sites. We installed the STL repeater on the rooftop of one of the tall buildings near the mall.
As we began construction, we had to level the floor. To do this, a portion of the exterior wall was removed and a small Bobcat loader spent two weeks hauling sand into the space and leveling it. Once the sand was in place, rebar was installed and then concrete was poured. When that was completed we were ready to begin building walls in the station.
We decided to go for the warehouse look and take advantage of the 20-foot-high ceilings with exposed ceiling iron. The architectural firm of Meriman Associates Architects in Dallas was hired to design the facility because it had previous experience with projects with a similar theme. They helped us use as much of the existing infrastructure as possible to reduce construction cost. Meriman Associates Architects has since been involved with designing Radio One facilities in Houston, Cincinnati, Boston and Baltimore.
Rooms with a view
The studios were placed in the area that formerly housed the movie projectors. This gives the studios the ability to have exposure to the mall so that mall visitors can see either station in action. We had to install an elevated catwalk outside the studios. This allows access to the studio core without taking away any of the precious floor space that once housed the projectors. The advantage to this is also this gives a great feel of openness to the station. When walking on the catwalk, you can see the entire radio station at one time.
The engineering technical operations center (TOC) was placed on the ground floor. We installed a cable tray that ran from the TOC straight up and above the catwalk. It runs the entire length of the building and goes past every studio. We left it open and exposed with the plan that it would become part of the warehouse look of the facility. Because the cable tray was being used to project a look, a visitor's eyes are automatically drawn to it. This made it important that every cable be neatly placed in the tray. We later noticed that even cable ties that were not installed in the same manner began to stand out.
Because the TOC was located just below the catwalk, the cable trays above the racks became another focal point. We immediately became aware of the aesthetics involved with the cable placement and had to adopt several rules for the cable trays. This ensured an orderly look for the finished product.
We built six studios to handle on air and production needs for both stations. The audio for the facility was based around the Logitek Audio Engine routers with the Logitek Numix 18 consoles used on the air. Each Audio Engine can support as many as three audio consoles or audio routers control panels. We installed five Audio Engines for our six studios and TOC routing needs.
All the audio engines are networked to each other through fiber optic cable. The audio engines can be located either in the studio next to the console, or all in the same location, such as the TOC. We chose to install all of the audio engines in the TOC. This allowed us to minimize the amount of wiring in the studios, which became important when the timetable on the studio construction became short. All of the audio generated inside the studio (microphones, CD players) was run to the TOC. We installed Gepco digital audio wire to run between the studios and the TOC. We use it for both digital and analog audio.
Right on time
Due to delays in getting the lease signed, and some construction delays, the time frame for construction was more than two months behind. We had a firm deadline on when we had to have both stations moved. The original time frame for the studio and TOC construction was to be 10 weeks. When we were able to start pulling audio cable, we had less than four weeks to have both stations on the air from the new facility. This created a lot of pressure on the engineering staff, but with the Logitek audio consoles, we were able to pull it off on schedule.
The main reason for our ability to meet the deadline was due to the new audio consoles and routers. The topology of the system significantly reduces the infrastructure requirements of the facility. We no longer needed racks full of distribution amps and all of the wiring associated with running all of that audio in and out of each studio. All the audio inputs and outputs are connected to the Audio Engine. Once that has been done, the audio can be directed to any location in the facility by programming the Audio Engines.
The Audio Engines are programmed through a computer that has RS-232 access to each audio engine. Logitek supplies a program called Supervisor that runs on that PC. The Supervisor program allows the engineering department to instantly see the status of all studios and audio cross points. From that program, we can control any parameter in the studio. That has been helpful to us, because the studios are located on a different floor than the engineering TOC.
For audio storage and playback, we use the Computer Concepts Maestro system. We have six workstations and a central audio server. All of the workstations and the server were installed in a rack in the TOC. The computer screens and keyboards were extended using KVM extenders. We also ran the KVM signals into a KVM switch. This is connected to a monitor and keyboard in the TOC. This gives us the ability to monitor all actions on the Maestro system and also take control of the computer screen.
Shortly after moving into our new facility, we began running a new syndicated morning show, The Steve Harvey Morning Show. The show was currently running on Radio One's KKBT in Los Angeles and was to also air on KBFB in Dallas. This was the first step to syndicating the show nationally. Steve Harvey is well known for his starring roles in various movies, his own sitcom, many standup comedy appearances and he currently has a variety show on the WB network. The show is based in LA, but Steve spends a lot of time in the DFW area. Harvey wanted to be able to broadcast from Dallas anytime with little notice.
The first step to achieving this goal was to install a dedicated T1 from LA to Dallas. When Harvey would broadcast from Dallas we would relocate the KBFB broadcast to another studio and give the KBFB control room to him. This allowed Harvey to comfortably have guests in to interview and also allowed us to showcase his show. The KBFB studio has a glass wall from floor to ceiling that is open to the mall. Listeners can walk by in the mall and see Steve Harvey in action. That has been a tremendous help in achieving a local feel for the show.
The only problem with this design was that when Harvey first came to town, many technical aspects of the facility had to be changed. There were many audio routing changes that had to take place. I personally came in to manage this for the first couple of months. I needed to get back to a normal sleep schedule, so I now use a program called Command Builder. This program comes with the Logitek audio engines. It allows simple command scripts to be written and execute automatically based on parameters that I define, allowing me to completely automate the changes. Once the script was written and implemented it has run without any problems. The operators have no idea that there are any changes happening in the background. They just know that it is always there and working, no matter what they are doing.
We have been in the new space for about two years now. I have become so used to the capabilities that we have built into this facility that I could not imagine going back to the old days. One morning I received a call from our Houston station, who was hosting Steve Harvey in the studio. The Los Angeles station was having a problem with its ISDN line, and audio needed to be routed through the Dallas facility. I walked to my computer, changed the routing points and dialed the ISDN from the house. Just a few years ago, this is something that I could have never imagined being able to do.
While the generous floor space and unique location of our studios make this facility a showcase, the flexibility and convenience that is available to us now through the various audio sources, the ease of routing and controlling these sources, and the ability to monitor and make changes remotely have made the job of the engineering department much simpler.
Stevenson is chief engineer of Radio One Dallas.
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